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3 Stories That Reveal Steve Jobs’ Secrets to Life-Changing Teamwork

davidfallarme on January 21, 2014

3 stories about Steve Jobs' teamwork philosophy

Steve Jobs surrounded himself with some of the smartest, most talented people on earth. It’s one of the reasons for Apple’s enduring success.

How did Steve — who was sometimes known for his abrasive personality — manage these brilliant people?

The three stories below give us unique insights to the Steve Jobs approach to teamwork.

1. The one about the rock tumbler

Steve Jobs and the rock tumbler

“Through an incredibly talented group of people bumping up against each other…having arguments, having fights…and working together, they polish each other, they polish their ideas.” (Video)

Conflict is a healthy sign of a passionate team

A childhood experience teaches Steve that arguments, debates and disagreements are a necessary part of creating something beautiful. It’s a powerful insight into why he was never afraid of ruffling feathers or having a strong opinion.

2. The one about Apple’s leadership

Steve Jobs talks about his management style

“If you want to hire great people and have them stay working for you, you have to let them make a lot of decisions. You have to be run by ideas, not hierarchy.” (Video)

Hire smart people, make them accountable, then get out of their way

Steve met with Apple division heads once a week in a 3-hour meeting where they would discuss everything. He described his role as one who helps people solve their issues, then stepped back and let them figure out the rest.

He also circles back to his philosophy that conflict is a necessary part of creation, citing that his team has “wonderful arguments.”

3. The one about the mailing list

Steve Jobs talks about how a mailing list changed his company

“…[the mailing list is]… a window for management to look at the process of this organism we call our company… in a way that has never before been possible.” (Video)

Give your team a place to share their thoughts

Steve was passionate about understanding the thought processes within his company. He set up a mailing list for every project, allowing him to keep a pulse on the disagreements, arguments and decisions happening within each team.

The mailing list was not solely for his benefit. According to Steve, not only did the mailing list reduce time spent in meetings, it also increased the quality of their decisions, as a result of the various kinds of “intellectual content” that was now being shared within the company.

Today, Steve might have used tools like Slack, HipChat or Skype to run chat groups. Team link-sharing apps like Pie are useful for discussing industry news and best practices with your team, in a way that’s much less clunky than using a mailing list.

Steve Jobs wanted the best ideas to win

If there’s one pattern we can glean from these stories, it’s that Steve was passionate about pushing everyone to their fullest potential. He recognized that he already had smart people in his team, all brimming with ideas.

Steve was a master at extracting those ideas and polishing them until they were the life-changing products we use today.

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